Founded in 1842, St. Johnsbury Academy is home and host of the Sandy Murray Early Bird Invitational tournament held at the start of the season in early December. The event, named in honor of their beloved former coach and mentor Sandy Murray, sets the tone for the entire season and builds the excitement for High School wrestling in Vermont. Among their notable athletic programs, St. Johnsbury Academy has an outstanding wrestling program. The wrestling program was only established in 1968 and prior to the formal program students participated in a wrestling club, where they would compete with college students from Ivy League schools.
Starting off the 2016-2017 season with seventeen on the roster, the Wrestling team, is putting in maximum effort. Practicing in their beautiful new off-campus facility with new mats, and a refreshed attitude. “We’ve got a young team this year, there is only one Senior” Coach Mike Verge tells Vermont Wrestler, “they are young, but scrappy”. He went on to say that with a team like this, there is great growth potential. “They show up to work, they’re giving their all, and they have the courage to do battle.” The new facility is up a flight of stairs, they don’t come down the stairs until they are in some way better than when they climbed them.
The program at St. Johnsbury Academy focuses on “whole wrestler” and building a solid athlete. Along with Assistant Coach Brian Roderick, they work on individual strengths, smoothing out any rough areas. They work out any apprehensions about particular referee positions along with conditioning and wrestling moves. The essential focus here is not on getting the win, but rather doing their best, with hard work and a positive attitude. Winning is not about the score, it is more about going the distance, and having the strength and mental fortitude to fight hard. Wins will happen, when you show up, put the work in and do your best.
As an alumnus (Class of 1987) and former wrestler from St. Johnsbury Academy, Head Coach since 2007, he describes the program, as not really a program, but rather a family, with every member, Team Captain, to “newbie”, pulling their weight. “Wrestling is the closest thing to real life that you can get”, he said, “Life is hard, and so is wrestling. Everyone has a job, and when they do that job, everything falls into place”
As you can imagine wrestling runs deep in the veins at St. Johnsbury Academy. The wrestlers that flow through this program are encouraged to mentor each other, work hard and give back. Coach Verge told me that former Coach Murray is at practice at least once a week, to observe and give his insights. That fact speaks to how deep the feeling goes.
Currently there are five former Hilltoppers wrestling at the college level. During their winter break these students will come to practice and work the team, showing their former teammates what they’ve learned while at college. As far are recruitment for the program, the wrestlers themselves are the best recruiters. Coach Verge said that there may be potential wrestlers that he doesn’t know about, but that the team goes out to their peers and brings them in. The program really speaks for itself.
Coach Verge said that everyone loves the “Rocky” story about the guy that gets knocked around, and knocked down, and gets back up again, ready to do it all over again. That’s what hard work it is all about, the reward is the knowledge that came through it and are better for it.
You can see the team in action on December 27, 2016. They are wrestling next at the Holiday Tournament on Lowell, Massachusetts. Check back with Vermont Wrestler for updates on the team.